Debra Anderson (Panelist)

Debra Anderson
AMT Adjunct Faculty Digital Dev: WebVR
and Co-founder Datavized

12:30 am to 1:30 am
Exploration Narrative: Agency and VR experience
VR/AR/MR effects on experience in theater, advertising and games

Debra Anderson is Co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer at Datavized Technologies, a WebVR software company building a data-driven publishing platform for the 3D web. Debra designs and instructs the first Digi Dev: WebVR undergraduate course at Parsons School of Art, Media, and Technology and guest lectures at MIT, NYU, and ICP. She is Co-founder and co-organizer of the NY Women in VR Meetup (NYWIVR). Follow her on Twitter @debraeanderson and @datavized or visit

Reflective Essay:
My start-up Datavized Technologies is building a WebVR publishing platform to give creators the tools they need to build for the 3D Web. Designing for immersive and collaborative virtual environments is challenging and complex, designing virtual spaces that feel natural to our bodies and brains, our human perceptual systems. What virtual reality (VR) teaches us now, as a medium, is how to best leverage sensory bandwidth to craft shared human experiences, to make sense of the world around us and shape this technology as a new communications tool. As with any communication platform, our ability to create narratives and present information, in context, is key.  How might we use virtual reality to understand vastly complex systems, the phenomenal data deluge at individual and societal scale, and utilize data-driven environments and embodied interaction to gain new insights, new perspectives, make better decisions? Through this lens, I see immersive media as the start of something new and expandable, an opportunity to explore and unlock deeper levels of human cognition, of attention and engagement; to mix stories with experiences, empathy with action, art with utility, data with wisdom.

When we approach virtual reality as a new computing platform, now in fully immersive 3D, we can ask what makes sense to our state of being, navigation, movement and thought in the real world and think of how to translate that in the virtual. Our innate spatio-temporal problem-solving capabilities are what we are designing first in virtual reality, in its nascent form, for the experiences to have real meaning. Try any VR experience and you will quickly become an expert in what is a good or bad experience (cybersickness being a key indicator). Enhancing these sensory and spatio-temporal qualities in VR is the daily goal. It’s an iterative process, and we are just at the beginning.

My work at Datavized focuses on data-driven and research approaches to immersive experiences developing custom WebVR software. WebVR is an API that provides access to Virtual Reality in Web browsers and our software is built on top of this open-source layer. WebVR is the first update to the interface since before the Web. For more than thirty years we have been confined to the 2D flat screen, with a keyboard and mouse for navigation. WebVR now opens 3D 360-degree immersion in web browsers with gesture, gaze and voice-enabled navigation. What does the 3D immersive Web look like? Feel like? Sound like? Is this the real promise of the metaverse, where you can traverse between 3D hyperlinks and VR web pages without exiting VR? Yes, and this future is already here. With an HTC Vive and WebVR, you can walk inside your web browser, immerse yourself inside your data. But that virtual web browser, ironically enough, now needs to be designed for the real 3D world we live in.

At the core of virtual reality, what makes this medium unique and what drives quality experiences, both technically and creatively, is achieving a sense of immersion and presence through 3D audio-visual environments. With WebVR, one also must consider designing accessible, responsive experiences for both 2D and 3D displays. WebVR can be delivered in a Web page in realtime, no plugins to download, no apps to install, and the files are super light compared to video and game engine experiences (kilobytes vs. megabytes). With the WebVR API becoming a standard browser integration, starting with Chrome at the end of January 2017, the Web is emerging as a viable platform for VR creation, distribution and consumption.

At Datavized, we experiment with a lot of data-driven experiences and data visualization is just one challenge for building VR on the web. Repurposing 2D charts and graphs into VR is a useless exercise. In producing each VR experience we ask ourselves, what is VR in VR? We start with a blank piece of paper, an empty canvas. For the basics of a 3D scene –  every object has a position, rotation, and scale. Each object has X, Y, Z coordinates/axis. Then we add a data feed, spatial audio and an environment so that the information, context, story and world emerge. Each scene is then connected, and these scenes evolve into chapters and subchapters.

Through research and development of new forms and experiences of 3D data-driven environments, and visualization of data, for analysis, annotation and collaboration, new human-centered systems emerge and new forms of storytelling with data. We are now entering a new paradigm of data and the ethical, moral and societal implications of VR as a wearable technology that intimately captures documentaries of users. It is beyond clicks and shares, it is head movements and facial expressions, it is our biometric data input. Knowing this, how do we design and shape experiences and the technology with this in mind for the social good? How do we protect emotional and behavioral data in immersive virtual environments? As creators or consumers of immersive media, being cognizant of these new realities are always at play.